Above the 49: Canadian teams must stand against NHL lockout

The National Hockey League did the expected this past weekend by imposing the third lockout of their players since 1994 in a move that was widely supported by every franchise owner.

Or at least that what's Gary Bettman and those siding with the NHL in their current collective bargaining battle with the NHLPA would like to have everyone believe.

But even the most ardent NHL supporter in this latest squabble between the league and the players' union would have to find it hard to take the NHL at full value knowing there are more than a handful of teams that would gladly open training camps on time working under the so-called "old CBA," particularly the seven clubs that reside north of the 49th parallel.

It's hard to imagine franchises like the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Montreal Canadiens or the Vancouver Canucks, for instance, being perfectly content to sit back and watch millions of dollars in ticket and merchandise sales go by the wayside while the NHL attempts to negotiate a new world order to replace the previous CBA which just seven short years ago was introduced as a system that was overwhelming in the owner's favor.

But beyond just the dollars and cents that go lost for those clubs with each passing day, this nonsensical lockout drags on. The league risks alienating its fan base and losing the respect of supporters, which could ultimately translate into even more lost money down the road.

That's not to say that fans, especially those in Canada, won't be back to watch the games once the NHL returns, but it's hard to imagine their enthusiasm for the product will be as high as it was prior to this lockout, particularly given the reason this latest work stoppage exists.

In the 2004-05 lockout, there was an acknowledgement even among the fans that there was something fundamentally wrong with the league's system and that sweeping changes were needed - something they got after sacrificing an entire season. The sentiment this time around is that this lockout is little more than a brazen attempt by the owners to try to get a bigger slice of a $3.3 billion pie that might not even exist if fans weren't quick to forgive and forget after the debacle that was the canceled 2004-05 season.

That's precisely why Canadian teams need to be particularly proactive this time around in showing their opposition toward the league for this latest lockout. They may be under pressure to tow the company line - as demonstrated by the unanimous vote from the owners that Bettman received last Thursday to impose the lockout - but it's imperative they make their displeasure known over the way these negotiations have progressed if only to show they have the fans' best interests in mind as they claim they do even as they've blindly followed Bettman into the latest labor dispute.

There are subtle ways teams can show their discontentment with the league and some have already done so by releasing their own statements to the fans as opposed to just rehashing the same league rhetoric, or by publicly acknowledging the harmful effects the lockout will have for their business, including its impact on their staff - many of whom have already been subject to reduced work weeks or have been temporarily laid off.

But if they truly want to make a statement and show they are acting in the fans' best interest, they need to put pressure on Bettman and other owners who are firmly entrenched in the NHL Commissioner's corner by outlining the damages that having an extended lockout will cause not only for the hockey club but for the surrounding and supporting businesses, their respective charitable arms and other external organizations that depend on the club's charitable support, and for the growth of the game at the grassroots level.

And if Bettman and the other owners aren't willing to take these concerns into consideration and push for a fair and speedy compromise to the work stoppage but would rather keep the players away from the rink long-term in hopes of holding out for some sort of dream solution that would allow them to keep the Phoenix Coyotes of the world afloat for another season or two, then the Canadian teams absolutely have an obligation to voice their dissatisfaction in the public sphere rather than just kowtow to the league's questionable tactics and remain silent.

It's really the least they could do to keep the fans on their side and show them the same support they've received for the past seven years since the last lockout.